ROME (Reuters) - Dino Impagliazzo dices onions like a master chef and makes a mean vegetable soup, but most of his loyal “customers” can’t afford to buy even a bread stick.
Sprightly despite his 90 years, Impagliazzo is known as Rome’s “chef of the poor”.
Three days a week, he and other volunteers of the RomAmoR (RomeLove) association he founded make the rounds of food markets and bakeries for contributions from retailers who help him live out his dream of feeding the homeless.
It all began 15 years ago when a homeless man at a Rome train station asked him for money to buy a sandwich.
“I realized that perhaps instead of buying one sandwich, making some sandwiches for him and for the friends who were there would be better, and thus began our adventure,” he said.
Now the RomAmoR volunteers cook the food on the other four days of the week and serve it in various places in the city, mostly near train stations.
“We try to involve more and more people so that Rome becomes a city where people can love each other, you know?” he said while preparing soup in a professional kitchen. “It’s solidarity”.
On Saturday nights, they set up under a portico outside St. Peter’s Square to feed the growing number of homeless who sleep in the area, where Pope Francis has also opened medical and bathing facilities for them.
Impagliazzo, who once worked for Italy’s social security department, launched his mission to feed the needy with a handful of fellow pensioners.
They quickly graduated from making sandwiches to cooking hot meals, first at home and then in a convent, and the group now numbers 300 volunteers, both young and old, and uses its own fully equipped kitchen.
Impagliazzo, who received a honorific award from Italian President Sergio Mattarella recognising him as a “hero of our times,” never dreamed his initiative would become so successful, or generate such good will.
On a recent Saturday night near the Vatican, four extra volunteers showed up.
“I am happy because we never tell anyone ‘we don’t need you tonight’,” he said. “They stay among us.”
Writing by Philip Pullella; editing by John Stonestreet